Today, I'd love to tell you a little about my cozy British historical paranormal murder mystery series, The Lucas Rathbone Mysteries.
That's quite a long list of descriptor words there, so let's take it one by one.
Now, before we go any further, I'm going to put in a caveat:
The Lucas Rathbone Mysteries aren't going to be everyone's idea of what a "cosy" mystery should be.
At least, not if your image of a cozy mystery had a sleuth with a cutesy profession or animal sidekick and a hot cop love interest. I don't describe my books as having a "cast of quirky characters" or "laugh out loud moments" or anything like that, though I am told my books are quite funny and I do, on occasion, make myself laugh.
But, they're cosy in the same way a Miss Marple book is cosy.
There's no graphic violence on the page.
Most of the action is taking place in a small English village. We've got amateur sleuths and a little help/hinderance from the local police.
The action is fairly gentle, we don't have long periods of tension, there's a romantic subplot, and generally speaking, the main characters get along fairly well with each other. There's no existential angst, or cnstant brooding on personal demons, or anything like that.
They're not super sweet, but they're certainly not "gritty" of "hard-hitting" or "thrillers."
The language is fairly mild - the occasional "damn" might slip through a character's lips, and so far we've had one quite justified use of the word "bastard" in book 4, but if you can cope with that but dislike anything stronger, you're quite safe.
And very British, which leads me on to the next point.
The Lucas Rathbone Mysteries are like scones - quintisentially English, not sugary like cake but most certainly not a savoury dish either. Somewhere inbetween.
The accepted wisdom is to write what you know, and as an English writer who grew up in a semi-rural English village (as in, there's fields and a canal and it's all fairly pretty if you look at it in the right way, but it's also only a few miles from the nearest city, gets literally hundreds of lorries go through every day heading towards the nearby motorway junction, and has nearly 10,000 people living there, so... it's not exactly cut-off or super quaint, and dodging between lorries on the way to school adds a certain... excitement to your morning walk), so choosing an English village setting was a no-brainer.
All that being said, these photos were all taken recently just a few minutes walk from the house I grew up in, and it's more this kind of thing I picture when I'm thinking about English villages:
That last one's a bit blurry as I zoomed right in to get the shot, but you get the idea. Pretty pretty, and why would I not want to set my mystery series in a place like that?
Well, that and this kind of setting is classic for murder mysteries set in the UK.
Because, you know, between Miss Marple and Midsomer Murders and Father Brown and many, many others, there's a certain expectation for how the setting of a quintisentially English murder mystery should look, and I happen to have grown up somewhere vaguely similar.
(However, I'm very happy to report that we have far fewer murders than in St Mary Mead, Badger's Drift, and Kembleford, just in case anyone is worried my books might be too true to life)
So, I created a cute little fictional English village for my lot to live in, though admittedly I'm up in Derbyshire and I imagine them somewhere down in Oxfordshire... but what's a few hundred miles between friends, right?
And not only the setting very British, but my characters are, for the most part, typically British.
Self depricating, sarcastic, terribly polite (especially when they're angry), a tendancy to make jokes instead of dealing with their feelings and/or the immediate problem in front of them, spend half their lives drinking tea...
See? British through and through.
They are, in short, nice books set in a nice place with basically nice, if somewhat snarky characters.
And a bit of murder.
Nice, murdery, snarky books.
That take place in the past, which leads us nicely onto my next point.
Basically, a historical book is one that takes place any time significantly before the era the writer is currently living in.
For referance, I'm currently in 2023, and the Lucas Rathbone Mysteries are set in 1928.
So, the 1920s! That means wall-to-wall high-fashion, parties, glamour, and Jazz, right?
Uh, no. Not quite.
Whilst I do occasionally send my characters off to parties (which they enjoy to varying degrees) and dress them up accordingly (ditto), I wanted to show a more average view of 1920s England.
My characters are all working people - specifically in the newspaper industry, so they have an excuse to be nosy - and not Downton Abbey types. They get by comfortably enough, as in they won't starve any time soon, but they're lacking the luxuries in life and know all too well how to sew a button back onto a shirt and darn a pair of socks.
Needless to say, they don't have servants, aren't zipping off to Paris to pick up the latest fashions, and have to take public transport if they want to get anywhere they can't cycle to.
And, whilst we're on the subject of history, my books aren't full of dates and events and the like. Things get mentioned, naturally - the date at the top of a letter, for example, or thinking about the Great War, which ended less than a decade previously so the trauma of it was still quite fresh in people's minds - but it's not a history lesson.
In fact, I try to write them as though they were written at the time they were set, and if you read books writen in that era, you'll know that dates and events and anything else to "anchor" the story in a particular year generally aren't there - no more than they are in our new books that are set in contemporary times.
I do, however, update some of the attitudes that, though accepted then, aren't now. Casual racism, sexism, and so forth, have no place in my books unless it is somehow particularly relevant to the story or portrayal of a character.
So far, it hasn't been relevant, however that isn't to say that I never will be, or that I'll steer clear of mentioning social issues, like gender pay gaps and other things that will directly affect my characters.
But my point is, there's none of the racial slurs that pop up occasionally in old books (looking at you, Agatha Christie) or completely absurd notions of how to deal with women (Margery Allingham, what were you thinking?!) or anything like that.
If anything, I steer too far clear of these issues - or at least, I have to date - for the simple reason that tackling them would seriously get in the way of the mysteries. Perhaps this makes my characters too modern for their time, but for now, I'm okay with that. I'm here to write stories about murder, not social issues.
I repeat, I have no intention of glossing over such important issues completely; but I will only touch on them when it is rparticularly elevant to the story.
In additions to outdated opinions, something else I "update" in my books is the language and writing style.
Language is constantly evolving, and what was easy for readers 100 years ago to understand and enjoy isn't necessarily going to be now.
Turns of phrase and idioms go out of fashion, particular slang words drop from favour, and ways of structuring the narrative has changed over time.
For example, I'm rereading Pride and Prejudice at the moment for a dialogue workshop I'm running soon, and the thing that's striking me about it is how little actual dialogue there is in the book. There's lots of narration about what people are saying, but quite often, we're being told that someone was discussing ribbons or the weather or whatever without being told their actual words. Whole important conversations are dealt with in this manner - the Meeting Mr Wickham scene springs to mind, admittedly partially because I read it last night - and that seems almost unimaginable in a modern book.
In short, my books are set in the past and I strive to give a flavour of the time, but they're in no way intended as an exact replica nor a history book. I like to think of it as updated classic crime.
Updated, and with added ghosts, because they're also Paranormal Mysteries.
Have you ever been reading an Agatha Christie and just wished Poirot could sepak to ghosts?
Well no, me neither, but I do love a little bit of a paranormal element in a story.
But it really is only a little bit, and it's not spooky at all. In fact, the ghosts are really just unreliable witnesses only one person (that'll be Lucas) can see and hear.
It leaves a lot of opportunities to make life uncomfortable for him, especially when he hasn't actually realised he's speaking to a ghost and ends up looking like he's talking to himself in public - but it also means he sometimes hets access to information a living person might not be willing to share with him, allowing him to steer the interview more accurately that perhaps otherwise.
Oh, and I should say, there's no seances or trying to contact the dead or any of that malarkey. Lucas rather wishes he didn't have his "gift", doesn't embrace it at all, and gets pretty grumpy about having to use it - because let's face it, if he doesn't solve the mystery of the spirit's death, he's going to be stuck with them forever.
There are some spirits he doesn't mind having around, though, notably Mrs Bird, who has taken care of him since he was very young and, in so much as he has a spirit guide, fulfils that role quite nicely.
She's bossy and stern and goes on about him "doing his duty" quite a lot, but there's a lot of quiet affection between man and ghost.
You might be thinking that being able to speak to ghosts would make solving their murders easy, but generally this isn't the case.
People don't get more honest just because they're dead, and this is most certainly Lucas's experience. Ghosts have lied to him, witheld information, give the wrong information by accident, only have part of the stories themselves, put their own prejudices forward as fact, and just generally ended up not be very helpful at all.
You'd think people would want their own murders to be solved, wouldn't you? But no, not always.
Which is kind of handy, actually, because otherwise there wouldn't be much mystery to solve, would there?
And quite often, the mysteries that are being solved revolve around a murder.
Last but not least, The Lucas Rathbone Mysteries are, typically, murder mysteries.
Not always, however, but usually.
And, to be honest, you probably know what this part of the list of descriptors is all about, but let's tackle it anyway.
Actually, there's not always a straightforward murder to solve. Sometimes there's another kind of mystery to uncover, or it's more of a whydunnit than a whodunnit. I like to colour outside the lines occasionally, you see.
But in my books, ghosts have usually been murdered, and having a character who can see them makes it quite easy to find mysteries to solve - which makes my life as an author easier as I now have a near endless supply of ways to logically start a story, and I'm all in favour of that.
And of course, it's great fun putting the puzzle together, and going through it again to add in clues and red herrings and all that good stuff I love in a murder mystery.
My goal is always to get you to go, "oh, I never saw that coming - but I should have done," as that's my favourite way to get to the end of a mystery story.
You know, when you've come to completely the wrong conclusion for all the right reasons, but when you find out the true solution, to realise that all the clues were there after all, but you've just got distracted along the way.
Anyway, that's just about the end of my rather longer than expected discussion about what the Lucas Rathbone Mysteries are. If you've made it this far, thank you very much. I think you've earned a cup of tea and a scone, don't you?
And I'm going to go carry on researching Ancient Egyptians, as that, believe it or not, is going to show up in book 6 of the series...
Catch you soon!
Love, Saff xx